Thursday, August 27, 2015

European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS)

The European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS) is an initiative established in 1993, to improve standardization within the European aerospace sector.

ECSS objective was the development of a set of unique, coherent, and Omni comprehensive standards, to be used in all European aerospace activities.


Figure 1 shows the main events in ECCS’s history on a timeline.

Figure 1. ECSS history timeline.
The initiative was constituted in 1993, thanks to a joint effort of the European Space Agency (ESA), national space agencies and a consortium of European aerospace industries. A comprehensive list can be found in Table 1.

In 1994, ESA confirmed its commitment to transfer parts of its internal software related standards (the so-called PSS system), to the initial set of ECSS standards.

The first documents were released 3 years later, in 1996.

In 1999, there has been the first tentative to apply ECSS standards on the Mars Express project. The standards were not yet completed and proved themselves to be not effective enough. Therefore, organizational changes at management level followed, and new implementation methods were adopted.

In 2005, a new set of standards was ready and in 2006 started the benchmarking phase, that ended in 2010. 

As today, ECSS standards are a complete, reliable and operative body of knowledge. 
ECSS standards are an evolving entities, so changes are implemented and recommendations incorporated, on a regular basis, as a part of the maintenance and operational phase. 

Table 1. ECSS members

ECSS environment

ECSS standards widely use recognized international norms, and aim at defining requirements rather than means; they describe the WHAT rather than the HOW (we will see soon that the HOW is typically contained in handbooks).

Figure 2. ECSS structure.

ECSS standards’ father is the European aerospace industry, and their mother a group of international space agencies. Therefore, ECSS standards are an extraordinary body of knowledge, which respects and implements high productive norms, from a pragmatic and operative point of view.
ECSS environment, as we can see in Figure 2, is composed of 4 main branches, each one containing standards related to a particular aspect.

  • M series - Project Management The branch includes standards related to project management activities. The M branch is about project objectives, quality organization, timely and cost effective execution, communication…
  • Q series – Quality The branch contains standards related to the implementation of the project’s product assurance. Standards here contained are divided into 2 main categories. Generic standard dedicated to quality assurance, dependability, and safety. Specific standards devoted to different products type (software, hardware, mechanical parts…). 
  • E series – Engineering The branch contains standards dedicated to the definition of the project’s end products, verifying that technical requirements are achieved in conformance with specific industries best practices, regulation, and constraints. The branch is about the engineering of all the parts of an aerospace system (hardware, software, electric systems, electronic devices, mechanical parts…).
  • U series – Sustainability The branch contains standard dedicated to the sustainability of the space environment, providing requirements and principles to ensure appropriate and safe space activities.

There is an additional S series of documents, not properly considered a branch. The S series defines the system of standardization documents, specifying how to use them correctly in aerospace projects.

There are 3 main categories of documents in ECSS environment

  • Standards Framework containing information about WHAT to do to achieve standardization in a specific discipline (e.g. software) of a given domain (e.g. engineering). Standards are meant to be used in invitations to tender, bids, business agreements, project management, project engineering…
  • Handbooks Non-normative documents providing background information, advices and recommendations about HOW to implement a standard. There exist 2 kinds of handbooks
    • Best practices and collection of data.
    • Guidelines.
  • Technical Memoranda Non-normative documents providing information and data on a particular topic, not yet mature enough to be released as a standard or a handbook. 

Different handbooks and technical memoranda may integrate a standard.

ECSS standards

Each ECSS standard is organized into 5 levels
  1. Scope contains information about the standard application scope and other applicable standards or documents.
  2. Glossary contains definitions of terms and acronyms used in the standard.
  3. Policies and Principles general statements of policies and principles to achieve standardization.
  4. Requirements required characteristics to satisfy outlined policies and principles. 
  5. Annexes Each annex can be normative or informative in nature. They provide guidelines to interpret and implement requirements.

Figure 3 and Figure 4 depicts the structures of branch M and branch Q, respectively, showing all contained standards.

Figure 3. M branch.

Take a look at Figure 3. Gaps in enumeration indicate the degree of evolution to which these standards are subjected. Initially, there were 10 standards, numbered from 00 to 90. Development and changes lead to standards fusion and elimination.

Figure 4. Q branch.

In future posts of this series, we will describe the most relevant standards contained in branch M and branch Q. We will not cover the E and U branches that, even if crucial, cover topics not pertinent to the management of projects.
To find all future posts related to this series, you can use the blog search instrument, looking for the keyword ECSS.

All ECSS standards can be found, read, and downloaded by anyone (European citizens or not) at the ECSS website. The access is open even if a free subscription is required.

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